Many people hear practice and think the stakes are low. Indeed, practice implies that the main event has yet to come but the maintenance of sustaining skills starts with practice.
Sports teams at every level hold practice games or participate in practice for weeks or months on end, leading up to the big game. Those long days of simulating the big play or perfecting intricate technique are not what the fans marvel at; however, athletes know that games are won or lost in practice long before game day arrives.
For alternative certification program (ACP) teacher candidates, practice is a foundational skill. Teacher candidates must be taught how to practice — both purposefully and deliberately — to ensure that multiple repetitions of the same skill yield impactful results for PK-12 students. Given the high stakes nature of teacher preparation, these ACP candidates must essentially condense years of practice into weeks or months prior to becoming a classroom teacher of record. For ACP candidates, practice is urgent.
Anders Ericsson discusses how critical deliberate practice is for many career professionals in his book, Peak. Ericsson tackles Malcolm Gladwell’s notion that to become an expert in a career field, one must accumulate 10,000 hours of practice (Outliers, 2008).
“There is nothing special or magical about ten thousand hours,” Ericsson writes in Peak (2016). He emphasizes quality over sheer quantity by asserting that deliberate practice exists to achieve certain goals and to improve specific aspects of performance.
Though the exact number of practice hours required to be an expert educator is up for debate, Ericsson expands upon Gladwell’s theory regarding practice. “Doing the same thing over and over again in exactly the same way is not a recipe for improvement,” he explains. Instead, Ericsson suggests in Peak, “if you are not improving, it’s not because you lack the innate talent; it’s because you’re not practicing the right way.”
In applying this theory to ACP teacher candidates, it is critical to promote effective practice opportunities that lead to continuous improvement. Practice is not simply performing the same action repeatedly. Practice is a cycle; moreover, purposeful, deliberate practice requires carefully crafted feedback from a career educator, nuanced scaffolds to address numerous classroom variables, and a safe space for teachers to fail and try again.
Prosper Waco’s Center for Transforming Alternative Preparation Pathways (CTAPP) believes that practice is one of the most impactful ways to prepare ACP teacher candidates for their future careers. We prioritize face-to-face practice where possible, and we seek to simulate these opportunities virtually when it is impractical or impossible. In every scenario, the common threads of feedback, scaffolds, and trust must be present to propel teacher candidates forward.
Ericsson concludes his book by saying, “The most important gifts we can give our children are the confidence in their ability to remake themselves again and again.” At CTAPP, we believe ACPs are an important part of this equation, allowing career professionals and recent graduates to make a meaningful — and well-supported — shift into classroom teaching.
Christopher Reid is director of the Center for Transforming Alternative Preparation Pathways (CTAPP) at Prosper Waco. (As of July 2021, CTAAP is no longer a part of Prosper Waco, but we still appreciate their great work.)